Chapter 1 - Party Crasher
He crashed into my world like a comet hurtling into a small planet at the speed of light. He unwittingly took a big chunk of me with him, leaving me gasping for air. Broken. Unwhole. He continued on his course without slowing down, or a backward glance.
The sound of giggling from behind me breaks the silence and I stiffened.
“Be quiet, Juni!” I hissed over my shoulder.
“I can’t help it. I laugh when I’m nervous,” whispers Juniper. A few seconds later, another giggle breaks out.
Oh, for goodness sake! I turn to glare at her even though I know she can’t see me in the darkness of the cloakroom. When I turn back around, a fur coat slaps me on the face. There isn’t much room in the cloakroom. We’re both squished between the jackets and coats. The mix of scents of different types of expensive perfumes is cloying.
Juniper shuffles forward, pushing the coats out of the way to reach the door. “I think he’s g---”
I slap a hand over Juniper’s mouth and drag her back behind the line of coats and jackets. She lets out a muffled “Owww...” against my palm.
“Shut up!” I whisper urgently in her ear. The man is still there. I didn’t hear his footsteps moving away from the door. “Shhh...” I warn her again.
I extend my hearing over Juniper’s rapid breathing and heartbeat and concentrate. I don’t hear the sound of the feet moving but catch a sound of a rough hand touching the doorknob. I duck down, forcing Juniper to land on her hands and knees on the heavily carpeted floor with me just before the doorknob turns and the door swings open.
The light from outside comes pouring in but not enough to fall on Juniper and me. We’re well protected by the heavy coats and jackets. I make sure to keep my hand on Juniper’s mouth.
On the floor, from the shadows of the hanging jackets, I watch my father’s henchman scans the room. He’s wearing a black suit like any other civilized man out there but there's no doubt in my mind that he’s an Excruciarch; a brute from hell that enjoys delivering pain. I’m not good with pain and I’m determined on crashing the ball that my father often hosts, so getting caught by the hulking beast from hell isn’t an option.
Juniper and I were doing so well trying to sneak into the ballroom until I spotted one of my father’s goons at the door. I grabbed Juniper and dove into the cloakroom as quickly as I could. That was a couple of minutes ago. I think he must have seen us...or suspected that he saw us because he followed us to where we’re hiding now. We could get away with this if Juniper could just stay silent. But apparently, she can’t stop giggling when she’s nervous. If I knew of her condition before, I wouldn’t have included her in this exploit of mine. At this rate, we’re going to get caught before we even get through the door!
A low sounding rumble gurgles out from inside his chest. It resembles the growl of a feral animal and the hair at the back of my neck stands on ends.
My pulse skyrocketed as Juniper’s body shakes with another bout of giggles. I tightened my hand over her mouth. Darn Juniper!
He stands there for what seems like an eternity before he finally takes a step back. When the door closes behind him with a click, Juniper’s body slump against mine in relief. I hear his footsteps receding and Juniper starts giggling again. I push her off me. The worst. Crime partner. Ever.
When we both step out of the cloakroom, I feel high on adrenaline. The coat check attendant who wasn’t there a few minutes ago eyes us suspiciously from the counter and I quickly drag Juniper across the gleaming marble floor. There are men in tuxedos and women in evening dresses but I don’t see any of my father’s men and the entrance to the ballroom is just a few feet away. I can hear the music as well as the chatter and the laugher coming from inside. We’re almost there.
“What do we do now? asks Juniper. I contemplate ditching her before we both get caught.